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Kirk Cousins says he turned down $90 million guaranteed from Jets to join Vikings

Kirk Cousins’s free agency experience ultimately gave him plenty about which to smile. (Jim Mone/Associated Press)
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When Kirk Cousins signed his three-year, $84 million deal with the Minnesota Vikings in March, it made history as the biggest fully guaranteed contract in NFL history. As it turns out, Cousins could have gotten even more fully guaranteed money — if he had agreed to join the New York Jets.

That intriguing bit of information was revealed Tuesday in a video posted to the Vikings’ website, which used footage from a camera crew that followed Cousins through his free agency process. The 30-year-old quarterback, who spent his first six seasons with the Redskins, appeared to be pleased by the New York’s offer mostly because it would give Minnesota an incentive to increase its own bid.

At the start of the video, which begins just before the NFL’s “legal tampering” period of free agency opens, Cousins’s agent, Mike McCartney, tells him that “Minnesota and Arizona maybe are a little above the Jets and Broncos,” in terms of rating teams they consider in need of a quarterback. Cousins had long since known that he wasn’t going to be returning to Washington, as the team that drafted him in the fourth round in 2012, then made him its starter and franchise-tagged him in 2016 and 2017, took itself out of the running for his services in January by trading for Alex Smith.

Cousins said in the video that “nobody from the Redskins had called to say that might happen” and that the trade for Smith “came out of left field.” He added, “I felt like one of the big players in free agency, one of the teams that I was most interested in playing for was no longer in the picture.”

Washington reportedly had tried to sign Cousins to a contract extension at previous points, but the two sides valued the quarterback very differently, so Cousins ended up taking McCartney’s advice and betting on himself. He played well enough under his first franchise tag to earn another one, then, having made $44 million over that two-year span, hit the open market with an unusual amount of leverage over quarterback-hungry teams — and the desire to make the most of it.

“Was it a stressful two years? Sure,” Cousins recently said to the Ringer about playing under the Redskins’ tags and risking injuries that could have derailed his career before a long-term contract arrived. “Were there times where I wish I could see the end of the line better than I could at the time? Yes.

“But it was healthy for me to go through it, and go day to day and year to year and put everything I had into each day, because I didn’t know what was on the other side.”

In the video, Cousins is shown telling his wife Julie that “the Jets came up to 30 [million], fully guaranteed, three-year deal.” As Julie Cousins says, “Whoa,” he notes, “So now we have what we wanted.”

At another point, Cousins says McCartney needs to get the Vikings from $25 million “to a number that is competitive with the Jets’ offer.” He adds, “But the fact that we have the Jets’ offer is huge, because now it gives the other teams a reason to come up.”

That’s exactly what Minnesota did, with a deal averaging $28 million annually, which helped make Cousins’s “life-altering decision” appear to be a no-brainer. “I feel good about the Vikings,” he said, calling the team, which went to the NFC championship game last season under quarterback Case Keenum, a “great fit.”

Meanwhile, the Jets paid a different sort of hefty price to land their quarterback, as the team traded three second-round picks to move from the sixth overall spot in April’s draft to No. 3, where they selected Southern Cal’s Sam Darnold. Before that, New York added one of Cousins’s recent predecessors in Minnesota, Teddy Bridgewater, to also vie for its starting job.

In a humorous moment, Cousins is shown trying to tell family members of the news that he was accepting Minnesota’s offer, only to be unable to reach any of his wife, mother and sister by phone. Instead, he opts to give the scoop to a AAA representative he had previously been shown speaking with about acquiring an international driver’s license.

Julie Cousins finally arrives to celebrate with her husband and their young child, and the ex-Redskin — effectively the NFL’s highest-paid player at that point— tells her that he’s “going from one team with a great fight song to another team with a great fight song.”

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